Happy with Ayala?

A recent MetsBlog poll revealed that 80% of Mets fans would choose Luis Ayala to be the closer in place of Billy Wagner — who we’ve now discovered is out for the year, and then some.

Of course, that was a poll taken TODAY. We’ll see what the teeming millions (er, thousands) feel about Ayala a week from now.

Personally, this news is not shocking — based on the limited info we had, it sounded to me like Wags’ return was a longshot — but it does make me worry about the ninth inning of close games.

But why should I be so worried? After all, Ayala has converted five of six save opportunities, and is sporting a svelte 2.70 ERA since coming to the Mets. And behind him, we have another resurrection, Brian Stokes, who in 23 IP has a 1.09 WHIP and 2.35 ERA.

Perhaps I’m just a worry wart.

Or perhaps I’m concerned about the day Ayala and Stokes fall back to Earth — those “humans” are frightenting. You know, the Ayala who was 1-8 with a 5.77 ERA in 62 previous games with the Nationals, and the Stokes who had a 7.07 ERA in 59 games with the Rays last year. Yes, it’s possible for people to come off the scrap heap and do well. But THIS well? Color me pessimistic.

But I’ll try to stay positive and pretend this Ayala/Stokes thing is for real, and move on from there. If we subscribe to the idea that the recent success of Ayala and Stokes means continued success through the end of September, we must also believe that the recent failures of Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano, and Scott Schoeneweis will also continue. And please, don’t bring up the last 26.2 innings of shutout ball from the bullpen before taking a look at the scores of those games — it’s much easier to pitch when there is a cushion, or when you’re down by several runs. Don’t tell me you trust any of the aforementioned four guys in a one-run or tie ballgame.

That said, who is there to use in the sixth and seventh, to bridge the gap to Stokes and Ayala, in a one-run ballgame in the last two weeks of the season? In the playoffs? Shouldn’t we be auditioning some of those extra arms on the roster, right now?

For instance, in what situation will we see Bobby Parnell? A seven-run lead in the ninth against the Brewers apparently wasn’t enough cushion to take a gander at this particular “untouchable”. Down six runs against the Phillies also wasn’t a good time — not even to see him face one batter. Perhaps if the Mets can go ahead by 15 against the Nationals, we’ll see Parnell warm up in the ‘pen. But then, we won’t know if he can handle an IMPORTANT situation.

How soon we forget Philip Humber, who was treated with kid gloves all last September, then was needed to pitch the game of his life in the most important game of the year. Not too much pressure, eh? Maybe he would have had half a chance had he gotten his feet wet earlier in the month.

And what happened to Eddie Kunz, another one of the “untouchables”? He was brought up here, given the Aaron Sele treatment, and not surprisingly stunk up the joint. This kid is supposed to have the “mentality to be a closer”, and “filthy stuff” — so when are we going to see him given the chance to prove it? I don’t mean he has to close, but let’s at least get him back on the active roster and put him into some 6th-inning situations — and not once every ten days.

Similarly, we have yet to see Al Reyes — though I imagine he’s still recovering from a shoulder injury, so we’ll be patient on that one. At least we did get to see Ricardo Rincon, who was extraordinary in his first crack at retiring lefties. I’ll take him over the Scho in a tough spot against a LH batter right now.

In his 18 lackluster appearances, Carlos Muniz may have already proven he’s not the answer (this year) — but Omar Minaya still compares him to a young Chad Cordero. But will he get the ball enough to make good on that comparison?

The Billy Wagner news doesn’t seem so disastrous right now because the offense (Carlos Delgado) has been outstanding lately, and scoring enough runs to make the latter innings less important. But the offensive ride may not last, and what happens then? Will there be one or two relief pitchers who can keep things tight in the last week of the season? We won’t know who those men are unless they’re given the ball a few times now — this week.

Let’s — for once — learn something from last year.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude September 8, 2008 at 2:58 pm
    I, for one, like to think that the Mets have learned something from last year. And that is, whereas last year in September with the season on the line, Omar failed to bring in any worthwhile, fresh faces despite the bullpen being clearly fatigued and overworked, while Willie continued to march Heilman and Sosa and Mota into tight spot after tight spot with the same bad results. This year, however, Omar has supplied Jerry with a boatload of arms in the bullpen, with the design of giving the beleaguered bodies a rest, and some new arms a shot at proving themselves for postseason consideration. No, we haven’t seen much of Al Reyes or Bobby Parnell or Eddie Kunz yet, but we have seen Omar make a trade for a guy who has helped immensely (Ayala), and Jerry go to new guys who have stepped up (Stokes, Rincon, Figueroa). In a perfect world we’d be seeing everybody equally, but the gameplan this September for the bullpen has been better than last year. That much is true in my opinion.

    Even with the rocky start to 2008 and the no-so-brilliantly-handled dismissal of Willie, this season has been a magical one for our Mets. The bullpen has been a mess for long stretches of the season. El Duque and Alou haven’t been heard from virtually all year. Church, Pedro, Maine, and Billy have spent large portions of the year in the infirmary. And yet we somehow find ourselves 17 games over .500, with the 3rd best record in the NL, and possessing a 2 game lead in the division with approx. 3 weeks to go. There was hardly a soul alive who thought this team had this kind of comeback in them, with or without Willie as manager, and to see the Mets make it this far without completely falling apart at the seams is a success in and of itself. But, while the playoffs are within grasp, there are certainly no guarantees at this point…and even if the Mets make it to the postseason, Las Vegas would definitely be pitting us as extreme underdogs, what with our plethora of injuries and makeshift bullpen roles.

    That said, there’s no doubting the loss of Wagner really hurts. Despite his inflammatory career numbers in the postseason, he will sorely be missed. One can only hope Ayala can continue to magically keep the opposition at bay, and that the offense can continue to provide the ‘pen with enough run support to avoid a few of their late-game meltdowns. But these are hardly things to count on, let alone wish for. Wagner’s absence will change the complexion of the Mets’ present and future, and could weigh heavily on where they decide to spend their offseason dollars this winter. If Ayala continues his recent success, is he worthy of the closer’s title in 2009? Is Kunz ready for the responsibility? Could Heilman get a shot? John Maine? Do we turn to Brian Fuentes? Or do we enter the K-Rod sweepstakes? Many questions, little answers. Perhaps how the rest of 2008 plays out will provide us with some insight.

  2. Micalpalyn September 8, 2008 at 5:14 pm
    I’d get Fuentes now, get him in there and see if re-signing him long term is worth while.

    interestingly: Last week fox was reporting berating the Dodgers….now thery are ijn first again and ESPN’s Ed Perez has annointed them the team to beat.

  3. isuzudude September 8, 2008 at 5:38 pm
    Hold your horses, Mic. Fuentes would never pass thru waivers at this time of year, and you could bet your keester that the Phillies would jump all over Fuentes to prevent him from becoming a Met. Not to mention Fuentes wouldn’t be eligible for postseason play, and I’d hate to think of what the Mets would have to give Colorado just to have him pitch in September and then potentially sign elsewhere in the offseason. Although it is worth mentioning that Fuentes is going under the radar a bit what with KRod a future free agent. I wouldn’t mind either one closing at Shea next year, though there’s no doubt Fuentes would come much cheaper.
  4. Micalpalyn September 8, 2008 at 6:10 pm
    I dont know where Fuentes is at reference waivers. There was talk he was put in but he had that bereavent issue..(?).

    no he might not pitch in post season, but right now the Rocks get a type A FA (maybe), would they rather have two prospects? maybe one named Kunz, maybe Carp? (and one other).

    Omar would still get a pick in the off-season if it does not work out. …but this might all be moot anyway.

  5. upson September 8, 2008 at 7:58 pm
    >> “… we must also believe that the recent failures of Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, Pedro Feliciano, and Scott Schoeneweis will also continue …”

    This might not necessarily be true… especially assuming that you were right when claiming that the Mets bullpen struggles can be explained by its overuse and fatigue. Then, one can argue that the bullpen was horrible in the first part of August simply because the pitchers were tired with things getting even worse with Wagner’s injury (partly because even more innings had to be covered and partly because some guys were asked to pitch out of their comfort zones.)

    Right now, however, it seems to me that both these issues were addressed. First, the Mets added at lot of “fresh” arms to eat (important) innings (Stokes, Figueroa, Ayala plus recently Rincon, Knight). Second, with Ayala being (unofficially) the closer, all other guys seem to feel a bit more comfortable.

    On the other hand, I totally agree that as soon as possible, we should audition Reyes, Parnell and perhaps bring back Kunz as well. We have to evaluate them, otherwise, there is no sense in keeping them around. (I do not see a reason to audition Muniz though.) Also, we have to have a plan B for the case Ayala turns out to be ineffective. I think two things are pretty clear: (i) closer by committee does not work for this team; (ii) none of the “original 5” BP guys is up to the task. This leaves us with Stokes, Reyes, Knight, Kunz or Parnell. We have to see them in action!